(Un)Convention(al) Thinking

The Democratic National Convention started tonight with a bang. Senator Ted Kennedy arose from his sick bed, where he's battling brain cancer, and flew to Denver to pass the mantle of Democratic Party moral leadership from the Kennedys to Barack Obama. As if his presence wasn't enough, his niece, Caroline Kennedy, introduced him and described him as one of two men who inspire her, the other of course being Barack Obama. I wonder if the Clintons, who did have a modestly successful eight-year stint not too long ago, felt slighted that the Kennedy blessing went right past them to the upstart Senator from Illinois? Jacob and Esau have nothing on this "family" drama! Later on, Michelle Obama got up to introduce herself to the American people as a devoted wife, a doting mother and a woman who loves America, in part to counter her misstatement during the campaign about being proud of her country "for the first time in my adult life..." I don't doubt her patriotism but there are a lot of folks out there who probably already have their minds made up and she could wrap herself in the American flag and sing the Star-Spangled Banner and it wouldn't make a difference to them. From the account I just gave, you'd think I was watching the convention breathlessly on television this evening. In fact, anyone who's a card carrying political junkie ought to be watching, right? Well, I'm sorry to disappoint, but I was watching the Seahawks and Chargers in a preseason football game. Everything I recounted for you about the convention is based on what I read online with a few of my personal thoughts thrown in for good measure.

Why would someone who has had a passion for politics since childhood not watch the Democratic National Convention or the Republican convention to follow? In fact, I haven't watched a political party convention since 1992. Before you revoke my policy wonk card, however, hear me out for a few minutes.

There was a time in our nation's history when party conventions were full of drama and intrigue because they actually decided who would go forward as the nominees for President and Vice President. As primaries superseded the conventions, they became less about selecting the candidates and more like a week-long party to celebrate the eventual nominees and get undecided Americans pumped up about the choices they have in November. With that in mind, here are my top five reasons for not watching political conventions:

  • I'd rather be at a party than watch one (I know that sounds like sour grapes because I didn't get elected as a delegate or alternate, but I would have felt the same even if I hadn't run).
  • I'm not into political cheerleading; I'd rather watch a good forum or debate than a rah-rah spectacle.
  • Neither side is going to say anything I haven't heard before and if they do, I'll read about it online.
  • I already know how it ends.
  • I already know who's getting my vote.

That said, I would like to go to a convention one year just to say I did it and, God willing, I'll have a chance one day. My wife says if I stopped picking the losing candidate every time, the odds of me being a delegate at a convention someday might just go up!

I confess that I might watch Senator Obama's acceptance speech on August 28th. He's going to make history as the first person of color to receive a major party's nominiation for President, and he's going to do it in front of 75,000 screaming fans at Denver's Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium. It's going to be an amazing media event, and it will be historic. The fact that his acceptance speech occurs 45 years to the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 is rich in symbolism. Whatever you may believe about Barack Obama's politics or qualifications to become President, you cannot deny that this is a milestone in American history. Besides, the man knows how to give a speech. That combination might just be enough to yank me away from my computer (grin)!

I may even watch John McCain's acceptance speech just to see if he can hold his own against one of the great orators in modern American politics. I feel for John McCain, an experienced public servant who put his life on the line in battle and captivity for his country, strives to live the warrior's oath of "duty, honor and country," puts principles above partisan politics and even his own electability, evokes candor and humility in his public demeanor and has, in my opinion, the qualities most Americans expect of a President. After years of disappointment, he finally breaks through and wins the nomination, but it's probably the worst year possible for Republicans across the board and he has to run not only against the Democrats but also an unpopular President from his own party. Moreover, he ends up facing a young, charismatic, handsome and eloquent politician whose persona invokes John and Robert Kennedy and who is probably as close as a politician can get to a rock star (and I don't mean that as an insult). Who would have thought a combination of circumstances and a once-in-a-lifetime opponent could diminish a man of John McCain's stature? Obama's youth, oratorical skills and even his height accentuate Senator McCain's age, modest speaking ability and smaller frame. I may watch his speech just to cheer him on from my living room couch. After all, Senator Obama doesn't need more adoring fans - he generates a crowd wherever he goes.

One final thought in this series of random thoughts about conventions. A friend of mine who served with then-Governor George W. Bush in Texas and followed him to the White House told me a story of how he observed the frenzy and passion of a political rally and became suddenly troubled by the emotion and exuberance he witnessed. Instead of a political rally, he saw people being more demonstrative, excited and devoted toward a political candidate than they would be in church on Sunday toward the God who created the universe and gave us life. His description always stuck with me; how much more passionate are we about sports, politics or entertainment than we are about our faith? Ever since then, I've been a little wary of over-the-top public spectacles devoted to temporal causes. There are a lot of people, Christians included, who are wringing their hands about the outcome of this election, and both sides are convinced than a victory by the other would be a catastrophe of epic proportions. If the God I believe in is in control, however, I have to believe that the outcome is ordained by Him, even if it's someone I don't want to see inherit such power. The mere fact that He has a plan for all of us and it's guaranteed to be good because He is capable only of good and not evil ought to be enough for us to throw a big week-long party - don't you think?